PENN YAN — As many downtown businesses remained closed due to COVID-19, Main Street in this Yates County village was somewhat sleepy last week.

However, those who did happen to drive through town or were out for a walk likely noticed a new addition to the landscape — large portrait banners of the Class of 2020 at Penn Yan Academy.

“We’ve been getting a lot of good feedback from parents, families and the community,” said local photographer Mark Griffin, who took some of the portraits. “People seem to be happy and appreciate the effort.”

The banners are part of “Operation Graduation,” which had planned a number of drug-free celebrations after graduation. Those were canceled due to the novel coronavirus.

“So we came up with other ideas on how to celebrate our children,” said Sara Eskildsen, whose son Jacob is a senior.

Eskilden said the group didn’t want parents of seniors — some of whom are not working due to COVID-19 — to pay for the banners, so they asked the community for donations. They rolled in.

“I was a little stir crazy one day, so I went to the post office to check the post office box. There were 24 envelopes in there,” said Eskildsen, a teacher in the Red Jacket school district. “There was one from a 1945 PYA graduate who said she missed her senior prom due to World War II. The personal messages and well wishes brought me to tears.”

The banners were put up Wednesday by the village Department of Public Works.

“People who have been away from the area and are now back have commented on how great the banners look and how they are a nice addition to Penn Yan,” Eskildsen said.

The banners followed another recent effort to recognize the Class of 2020, when more than 60 people — including school district administrators, faculty, staff and board members — decorated vehicles and went in several caravans to put lawn signs at the home of each senior.

There are 94 seniors in this year’s graduating class.

The Penn Yan Education Association and school board paid for the yard signs and set up six different routes of about 10 vehicles in the surprise event. Participants in the parade included Superintendent Howard Dennis, school principals, board members, and faculty from PYA, Penn Yan Middle School and Penn Yan Elementary.

“Horns were blaring and we went to each home to place a sign in the yard of the graduating senior,” said school board member Kathy Guenther, who helped organize the effort. “There were a lot of tears, gratitude, well wishes, candy, hand bumps, self distancing and photographs.”

Recommended for you